PNDI Searches and the Famed Bog Turtle

PNDI Searches and the Famed Bog Turtle

If you’re looking to develop your lot, you have probably done some homework to make sure everything goes off without a hitch.  You’ve checked your zoning regulations.  You’ve checked your water and sewer availability.  But have you performed a PNDI search for the property?

PNDI stands for Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory, and it is a system put in place by the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program to ensure that land development projects do not adversely impact endangered and threatened species of plants and animals.  When a PNDI search is performed, the lot and surrounding area are screened by four agencies; PGC, DCNR, PFBC, and USFWS.  Depending on the site conditions and other nearby reports, a project may have an impact from one or several of these agencies.  If an agency determines that there is a potential impact on an endangered or threatened animal or plant species, you are required to perform specific actions or avoidance measures to minimize these impacts.

While it is difficult to foresee if a project site will get a hit from the PGC, DCNR, or PFBC, there is a little more predictability from the USFWS.  One of the most common potential impacts we see is to bog turtles.  If a lot and surrounding area (300-foot offset) have or may have wetlands, there is a good chance that the USFWS will request a Phase I Bog Turtle Survey.  This survey determines whether or not there is a potential for bog turtle habitat (this survey does not confirm if bog turtles are present, that’s a Phase II survey, but more on that later).  If the Phase I survey finds that there is no potential for habitat, the survey report is sent to USFWS for review and verification.  But if you contracted one of the recognized qualified bog turtle surveyors (as found on this list, click here) all they have to do is send a courtesy copy to the agency and you can proceed.  Using a surveyor that is not on this list requires the USFWS to review the report which can take several months and can put a halt to a fast-moving land development project.

If the Phase I survey finds that there is a potential for habitat, then a Phase II survey must be performed.  The purpose of this survey is to determine if bog turtles are present in the wetlands in question.  This Phase requires at least four separate field visits for each wetland area, and they can only be performed between April 15 and June 15, which coincides with the period of highest annual turtle activity.  The scope of this Phase II survey alone can be a significant impediment to any project.  The alternative is to maintain a 300-foot buffer from the edge of the wetlands, which in most cases drastically reduces the developability of a lot.

If your project requires a Sewage Facilities Planning Module or an NPDES permit, you will need to perform a PNDI search.  Feel free to contact us at DL Howell to run one for you.

 

A Naturalist’s Dream at Elbow Lane

A Naturalist’s Dream at Elbow Lane

Construction is nearing completion in the rolling hills of West Pikeland Township. Edward Theurkauf, a local landscape architect, employed the services of DL Howell & Associates to prepare site plans for the construction of a single-family home. We always enjoy collaborating with landscape architects and other complementary professions in our industry to create an efficient design that highlights the strengths in each of our fields.

Although it is just a single-family home, the project is located in a High Quality-watershed and proposed over one (1) acre of disturbance, which required it to obtain an Individual NPDES permit. As such, this project was required to adhere to more rigorous standards that are typically needed for a small residential project.

With Mr. Theurkauf we integrated not only common stormwater management best management practices like underground infiltration beds but also included minimalist techniques such as meadow plantings that help to preserve the natural environment and landscape. The home fits perfectly in a lot that is surrounded by acres and acres of protected lands that embody the ideal image of a nature lover’s countryside.

Feel free to contact (Theurkauf Design and Planning https://www.theurkauf.com/ ) and (D.L. Howell and Associates, Inc. https://www.dlhowell.com/  ) to see how we can help you with your latest land development project.

Golden State Mandate

Golden State Mandate

In our line of work, we deal with countless municipal regulations that dictate everything from the footprint of a house to the type of sewage disposal method. Although we can achieve credits with certain regulatory entities by incorporating solar panels into the design, there is no law in Pennsylvania that requires houses to have them. But that is not the case on the west coast.

Back in early May, California introduced a law that states that new houses constructed in 2020 and beyond must have solar panels. What was previously a choice for each individual homeowner is now a mandate for anyone looking to build a house in the golden state. While California has long been at the forefront of progressive environmental regulations, this comes at an interesting time. High housing costs continue to be a concern and including solar panels to the build would bump up the cost about $10,000, experts estimate.

It will be interesting to see what impacts this has moving forward. The solar industry already has a huge market in California and this law is only expected to grow that. On the flip side, homebuilding companies are predicting a decline in stocks as a result of the law. Only time will tell…

FatBerg, Right Ahead!

FatBerg, Right Ahead!

Have you ever wondered why they tell you “don’t pour cooking grease down the kitchen sink?” Or maybe “don’t flush paper towels down the toilet?” Well for the citizens of the Whitechapel district in London, they received those answers in titanic fashion. Whitechapel gained notoriety in the late 1880s as the location of the Jack the Ripper murders, but in 2017 a different menace was terrorizing the community, this time beneath the streets.

Lurking in the depths of the 47” by 27” sewer line was what experts had dubbed a “fatberg” that solidified and completely halted sewage flow through the pipe. A fatberg is a mass of fat, oils, greases, sanitary products, and contraceptives so large that it has to be compared to an iceberg. This particular behemoth of a blockage weighed in at a whopping 130 tonnes and measured 250 meters. For those of you not on the metric system, that is equal to 286,600 pounds and 820 feet. To put that in perspective this fatberg weighed the same as 10 fire trucks or 19 adult elephants. It weighed nearly as much as an adult blue whale, the largest mammal on Earth. And that 820-foot length? That’s over 2 (American) football fields long!

This congealed mass of waste products wasn’t exactly easy to remove either. When fats, oils, and greases cool down they solidify around all the other waste products in the sewer until they become nearly as hard as concrete. Removal of the Whitechapel fatberg took nine weeks as crews had to remove the blockage chunk by chunk and suck it through a hose. Instead of just disposing of it in a landfill, the fatberg was sent to a biofuel facility to turn it into usable energy. A representative of this biofuel facility estimated that the fatberg could have yielded up to 10,000 liters of fuel and some has already been used to power London buses. 1 liter of biofuel can replace 1 liter of diesel fuel, and that results in the savings of over 3 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

A London museum will be displaying parts of this fatberg as a learning tool and reminder of the calamity that can be caused by these disposal errors.

Irma – Round 2 – DING DING

Irma – Round 2 – DING DING

Strap on your boots and batten down the hatches – we’ve got another major hurricane on the way. The latest tempest comes in the form of Irma, which has the potential to be one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic. After it has already inundated several Caribbean islands, leaving streets flooded and a wake of destruction, Irma is setting her sights on the contiguous United States – first stop, Florida.

A state of emergency has already been declared in the sunshine state as this category 5 hurricane carries its 175+ mph winds and incalculable amounts of rain toward southern Florida. But predicting exactly where and how strong the hammer will fall is not quite crystal clear. Meteorologists run several models, such as the NAM, European, and GFS, to map the likely path of weather events but they often disagree. Running multiple models is helpful in providing a range of possible outcomes but they can only go so far, as the data used for the modeling is constantly changing. In the case of hurricanes, this makes it tough to figure out how your house will be affected and whether or not it will look like a newly discovered Atlantis. Despite the uncertainty, it is always a good idea to be on the safe side and prepare for the worst. The best way to do this is to incorporate effective stormwater management into the house/building design, but this takes weeks and months and is done during the planning and construction phase of a project. This proactive approach is good in theory but does little for people who rent or had no input into the design of their house. In these cases, measures should be taken to prevent and limit the amount of water that finds its way inside. This is typically achieved with sandbags at doors and other possible ingresses but those are usually in high demand. Even now parts of Florida are so strapped for sandbags that they are only giving out 10 per household. But there are other, more Macgyver-like measures to keep the inside of your house dry (see below).

  • Plastic trash bags 1/3 filled with water make good substitutes for sandbags at doorways
  • Paint cans or 5-gallon buckets can support and elevate your furniture if you are going to get water in your house
  • Use duct tape to seal your garage door to the floor to prevent water intrusion

These options are good preventative measures but you should always heed the warnings and recommendations of local officials when dealing with the potential catastrophe of hurricanes. We all saw what happened with Harvey and no one wants a repeat with Irma. Stay safe and stay dry.